Friday, August 19, 2005

Dan Bauer, Student Suicide, Taiwan

The good Rev. Bauer, who has an opinion column in the pro-KMT China Post, writes on suicide among college students.

Apparently, in a poll of 3,594 university students, 367 claimed to have "attempted suicide" in the past year.

Exclamations that came to my mind in reaction to this news included the following: "Totally unbelievable." "This cannot be true." "There must be a mistake here." "Impossible." "What was that?"

Bauer calculates how many of his students might have attempted suicide, and decides...

I am spending over 40 hours a week in an environment in which I see or have passing relations with 80 people who, in the course of a year, have attempted to kill themselves? I cannot accept those statistics.


My theory is that a reporter read the results of the survey in Chinese, but misunderstood how to report those results in English.

Right -- I haven't seen it, so it doesn't exist. Better accept them stats, Rev (Bauer actually wrote to the Taipei Times about this too). Given the high suicide rates here, and the overall social legitimacy of suicide as a response to problems, it isn't surprising that some 10% of students have attempted to end their lives. Indeed, speaking as an advisor to a class of fourth years at my U, that would be what I would have said. Out of my 50 I could easily name 5 who have attempted suicide. In fact, there have been numerous articles on rising suicides among the young over the years, like this one from 2003:

According to the Department of Health's records, in Taiwan, successful suicide attempts committed by people between the ages of 20 and 34 has risen from 22 suicides per hundred thousand in 1994 to 37 last year. (emphasis mine)

My wife and I were just remarking on the recent case of the young woman who, after having a fight with her boyfriend, decided to punish him by killing herself. She went out on the Kaoping Bridge between Fengshan and Pingtung and parked her car in the motorcycle lane there. Being thorough, she then attempted to strangle herself while running the exhaust into the car. Unfortunately a motorcyclist hurrying to work hit her at speed and died. Fate loving irony, naturally our self-centered heroine survived. Asked why she parked in such a dangerous spot, she retorted "Why should I think about such things? I was going to kill myself!"

Such incidents shed light on what the young might be thinking. It is worth recalling that websites on how to commit suicide began proliferating a few years ago, the gov't deemed them dangerous and shut them down.

The Taipei Times summary that attracted Bauer's attention is here. Sinorama has a three-page article on suicide in Taiwan that is well worth reading:

In terms of age brackets, the suicide rate in Taiwan peaks twice: among the old and among teenagers.

Old people commit suicide faced with "the bleak years of decline." It's distressing, but not incomprehensible. When teenagers-who should have their best years ahead of them-kill themselves, however, it is both saddening and inexplicable. It was in July 1994 that Taiwan was stunned when two high-achieving pupils from the elite Taipei First Girls High School killed themselves in a hotel in a suicide pact.
People are horrified at the suicide rates among the young; but according to this article, the suicide rate is even higher among the elderly. The next time you hear a Taiwanese scoff at US nursing homes, just cite these stats at them:

In Taiwan, the rate of suicide among elderly women is 3.2 times higher than the rate for women in general, while the corresponding ratio is 4.2 in Singapore and 2.4 in Japan. In contrast, the ratio is only 1.2 in the US and 1.5 in the UK, Sweden and Australia-countries with a developed system of welfare provision for the elderly.


Jason said...

I think one of the major reasons why so many young people in Taiwan attempt suicide is because it is a romanticized way of ending the incredible hardship and pressures that come with growing up there. Romance novels are full of accounts of Lover's Suicides, and the media's coverage of bereft relatives of people who commit suicide send a signal that the choice to end one's life can only improve his or her image in the memories of others.

Not to make light of the situation, but many suicide attempts in Taiwan are usually dramatically staged to exact some sort of revenge on another person. I can't tell you how many times I've heard of people (unfortunately, mostly young women) who take a mouthful of pills and immediately call the target of their anger (cheating boyfriends, usually) to tell them "this is it, I'm blaming all of this on you, don't save me".

There's also the "ghost" aspect to committing suicide that appeals to people who may feel wronged. Remember when that anchorwoman jumped off a building wearing a red dress (meaning her ghost would be back for vengeance)? The media played up the angle that her ghost was haunting her cad of a boyfriend, and police were put on alert for copycat suicides.

Of course, I'm not saying all suicide attempts in Taiwan are just crass attempts at attention, but I am saying that many of them are carried out by people who see it as a cynical way to strike back at others. Popular culture's fascination with suicide will only perpetuate its image as a spiffy way to get attention or revenge.

Michael Turton said...

I agree. But how often do I disagree with you? Frankly, anyone who wants my opinion can check with you, and then multiply by two.

The interesting part of running down info for this entry was the suicide rate among the elderly. I've heard of several cases, but I hadn't realized it was so bad here.


The Spaceman said...

I've always thought one way to deal with this problem is to enforce a media blackout on covering specific suicides as in North America.

I'm not suggesting the media (or anyone) ignore the problem. But pandering to the suicide's wishes isn't right either.

while a blackout certainly does not eliminate the problem, it won't receive the popular attention it does now.

Furthermore, for those who are not involved, we are spared the torturous shots of microphones thrust into the faces of the suicide's loved ones. A grotesque practice if there ever was one.


Anonymous said...

MASH said it best: suicide is painless.

there IS a reason people commit suicide, and it has to do with wanting to escape from the real and deep and severe pain they feel in this world. for them, suicide is a release, and who can blame someone for wanting release from a pain we normal people cannot even imagine? so in a way, suicide is a good way out for those who choose that path.

The sad part is the impact a successful suicide leaves on those who loved that person, from parents, wife husband lover brother sister relatives etc. classmates. But we cannot ask suicide people (SP's) to think about that. they want release from the pain and they want it now. deal with that, Professor Bauer!

wayne said...

I remember seeing at the Yizhong Jie nightmarket in Taizhong some public service ad exhorting people to Say No to Suicide! as if suicide were as seductive to young people as drugs. Hilarious stuff.